Okaaaay... Have done the arduous ‘back to school’ shopping trip for uniform and shoes and am beginning to make headway with the washing landslide, which means that there’s nothing to stop me finally getting around to doing the long-postponed post about my contribution to the Balfour series. Well, nothing apart from three daughters lounging untidily and noisily around the house and a book that’s demanding to be written, but the pile of author copies currently cluttering up my desk is ruining the otherwise zen-like minimalism of my workspace (ha!) and I really need to re-home them before I can apply myself properly to Kit and Sophie. So, I'm hiding out in my bedroom with tea, toast and my laptop to bring you the lowdown on writing Emily's Innocence. Listen carefully, there'll be questions at the end!
When my editor first mentioned the idea of the Balfour series to me I was a pathetically easy-sell. ‘Big English country house… wealthy patriarch… wives, mistresses… eight daughters…’ ‘I’ll do it.’
I knew straight away that this was going to be exactly my kind of book, and I was even more excited when I got ‘the bible’ – a booklet detailing all the background, characters and story outlines for each of the sisters – through the post. Flicking through, finding the story that had my name on it and starting to read about Emily and Luis was a real heart-racing, hand-trembling moment because, in spite of my eagerness to be involved in the series there was a worry lurking in the dark recesses of my mind that I just wouldn’t connect with the story or characters I’d been given.
But the moment I read the phrase ‘incorrigible playboy bachelor’ I knew everything was going to be alright. As someone who has veered helplessly towards serious, tormented heroes in the past it felt like an absolute gift to be presented with the task of creating a shameless playboy and I started writing with great enthusiasm. Luis quickly sprang to life on the page with his sarcastic asides and wisecracking one-liners and I adored writing the bits with him in it. OK, let’s be honest – I just adored him. Here’s the face I based him on…
However, it was when I got to about the halfway mark in the book that I suddenly hit a wall and realized that, much as I was having a ball creating a wicked, unapologetically shallow hero with his mind permanently below his waist (or that of any passing beauty) I’d actually pretty much neglected to the ‘hero’ part of his job description. I’d always aimed to develop depth to him through the action of the book, but the way I’d written him that journey was simply going to be too long to accomplish in 250 pages! So, after a long and increasingly excited conversation with my editor one day I put down the phone and went back to the start, introducing a darker edge to Luis’s character and a more powerful motivating force behind his behaviour. The original story outline in 'the bible' specified that his older brother had died, leaving Luis as the reluctant heir to the Santosan throne. By taking that a step further and making Luis indirectly responsible (or so he sees it) for Rico’s death it opened up a whole goldmine of emotion for me to romp about in. (India Grey's Obvious Tip for Aspiring Writers – give yourself enough material to work with and it makes the whole business of getting words on the page a great deal easier!)
As for Emily, the outline specified that she was the adored baby of the family, ‘however, the indulgence of her father and her sisters has not ruined her character – she remains down-to-earth, beautiful and good, a stronger version of her graceful, kind-hearted mother.’ I have to admit when I read that my heart sank a little as it can be a challenge to create a heroine who is virtuous and sweet without making her come across like the annoying class swot. However, I decided Luis was my secret weapon here. He's exactly the kind of person who would address this head-on and voice all those issues directly, forcing Emily to confront the possiblity that her irreproachable values and high moral standards are just hypocrisy and naivite in disguise. Introducing this alternative perspective on Emily’s character early on made her feel more human to me, and from that point on I really bonded with her. Here’s how I pictured her…
It was in email conversations with Natalie Rivers and Michelle Styles that I explored the importance of ballet in relation to Emily's character, and it threw up some interesting points. Emily is regarded as a brilliant dancer, which implies a certain ease with her own body and openness to physical expression, yet these were the very things that her uptight character struggled with most. Call me sadistic, but I like to see a character struggle, and so it was this discrepancy which formed the core of Emily's conflict and the basis for her journey. Who better than louche, sexy Luis to help her overcome her inhibition?
So, that's a little introduction to the characters... come back on Thursday when I'll be talking about the background, setting and inspiration behind the story. In the meantime I'd like to make some inroads into this pile of author copies and send out the neat postcards I've had made. For a chance to get one email me via the website (there's a link somewhere over there <--- but it's got a bit lost amongst all the other stuff) and answer this simple question: How many Balfour sisters are there? (You can find the answer in the above ramble if you look closely enough!)